To supply the markets of Southern China, Muslim Makassar Indonesia trepangers traded with Indigenous Australians of Arnhem Land from at least the 18th century or likely prior. This Macassan contact with Australia is the first recorded example of interaction between the inhabitants of the Australian continent and their Asian neighbours.
This contact had a major impact on the Indigenous Australians. The Makassar exchanged goods such as cloth, tobacco, knives, rice and alcohol for the right to trepang coastal waters and employ local labour. Makassar pidgin became a lingua franca along the north coast among different Indigenous Australian groups who were brought into greater contact with each other by the seafaring Macassan culture.
Archeological remains of Makasar contact, including trepang processing plants from the 18th and 19th centuries, are still found at Australian locations such as Port Essington and Groote Eylandt, and the Makasar-planted tamarind trees (native to Madagascar and East Africa).
Slow-moving creatures related to sea stars and sea urchins, sea cucumbers are found on the sea floor. As such, trepanging is accomplished by spearing, diving, dredging or simply picking the animals up by hand when they are exposed at low tide.
While largely unknown in the English-speaking world, trepanging is an economically important activity in some areas of the globe, particularly Southeast Asia. Sea cucumber is considered a delicacy in Far East countries such as Malaysia, China, Japan, and Indonesia.
Based upon the belief in the healing properties of trepang, pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies have developed pills, oils, and creams based on their extracts. The effectiveness of sea cucumber extract in tissue repair has been the subject of recent scientific study.
- MacKnight, CC (1976). The Voyage to Marege: Macassan Trepangers in Northern Australia. Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0-522-84088-4.
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- B.H. Ridzwan , T.C. Leong and S.Z. Idid (2003). "The Antinociceptive Effects of Water Extracts from Sea Cucumbers Holothuria leucospilota Brandt, Bohadschia marmorata vitiensis Jaeger and Coelomic Fluid from Stichopus hermanii". Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences 6 (24): 2068–2072. doi:10.3923/pjbs.2003.2068.2072.